After a year without television, by intent, I now have access to a hefty dose of channels. For better or worse, in today’s media environment, we have access to a cultural time machine. We are able to tune in, to use an old construct, to content from virtually any part of the last or current century as long as it was recorded. Taking it as an opportunity to re-examine the prevailing attitudes that helped shape mine, I have used the opportunity to catch up with programming popular when I was growing up. At that time, I considered network programming irrelevant, and did not make time to take a look. While socially and politically conscious and dedicated to art, I was not convinced of the progressive potential of mass media. Sadly I may have been right.
The series “Quincy,” which starred beloved actor Jack Klugman as an irascible medical examiner unstoppable in his pursuit of truth and justice for all, often tackled issues involving fair law enforcement and healthcare. Klugman played David in defense of regular people against the Goliath of established corruption. In his and other stories of the era, our Davids usually win. But what of their principles?
Episodes of this series and others depicted brave, iconoclastic individuals taking a stand against institutions plagued with corruption, self interest, laziness and ignorance, with greedy corporate interests a driving force that was often willing to resort to crime while hiding behind money and power. Three plus decades later the sad failure of organizations charged with securing basic human rights essential to decent living is all over the news. Who could anticipate that today, a whole cadre of public figures could openly dance to this tune and still get votes? What the hell are voters looking at? Not re-runs of Quincy, obviously.
Star Trek, one of the most noteworthy franchises in the history of film and television, was set in a universe where humans had grown past violence and personal profit motives, and preserved and protected whatever life they encountered. These were our heroes, people of the future whose society was governed by values, also taught to us in school, that we could only pursue in our times. If you had told the child I was at the time that I would come of age and live in a world where economic inequality would flourish, thousands of religious fanatic murderers would run amok, and more and more species would go extinct, I simply would not have believed you.
Television is cashing in on the venal impulses of the masses and thrusting meaningless lives into the spotlight as paragons of our culture; fueling the petit-bourgeois impulses of an impressionable public by replacing heroes and even nuanced villains with well-heeled vulgarians and pseudo celebrities. Even the protagonists of dramas dealing with serious issues are depicted as focused on their personal lives and corporate cultures – larger meaning has become a plot device.
Don’t expect the reality “stars” to cut it out, they are laughing at the rest of us all the way to the bank. Viewers need alternatives but corporations won’t fund quality programming because it promotes values they won’t tolerate, or can’t generate profit to buy them an election. Artists communicate whatever is burning in their gut and keeping body and soul awake at night, but if the system fails to support their work for political reasons, nobody gets the message.
There are plenty of villains in today’s world, even Revolt Magazine has been a target. Many are caught stealing from millions of people in a very public manner, yet it does not stop the abuse. Their money finances disingenuous public figures, hiding behind religious constructs as extreme as the end of days, their own wealth, or a cult of personality. Those who suffer are led to believe relief is on the way from beyond or live vicarious lives, thank the liars for giving them false hope by turning over their power to them, thus continue to tolerate exploitation by their controllers. This, in turn, infects programming funded by advertising– “fair and balanced” has been replaced by a shouting match across all kinds of media, and the best funded can always speak the loudest, just as in the selling of political candidacies to private interests.
The fine art world is not exempt. A New York Times article 1Reyburn, Scott, The Great Divide in the Art Market, New York Times, April 27, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/arts/international/the-great-divide-in-the-art-market.html?smid=fb-share&_r=02 acknowledged that the market for Art Stars has become so high that many collectors are being priced out. The author suggested that these collectors might consider that art has value beyond the monetary, which is true, but went on to recommend the acquisition of prints by famous artists as an alternative. Is a brand really necessary to the appreciation of art? The Times’ New York readers have access to hundreds of galleries and thousands of studios where they can find art that will enhance their lives while supporting local business, helping an artist they respect pay the rent and buy more materials, and hopefully making new friends. Think about it, are you better off chatting up folks at an art event, or gaping as the Kardashians cavort on cable?
Artists will not stop creating, and artists – writers, filmmakers, composers and performers as well as visual artists — cannot help but express the truth of the world that surrounds them within their work. But if that work is devalued and ignored as it has begun to be in this current craze for the worship of wealth, we lose independent voices. We lose the insights of those who have traditionally shepherded our progress as a society by courageously volunteering to serve as examples and take a stand against prevailing attitudes when they are deemed wrong.
Hopefully we will not find out too late that we still need heroes.